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Characteristics of Middle School Learners

Characteristics of Middle School Students in Reading Intervention

Characteristics of Middle School Students

Middle school learners are qualitatively different than younger learners. Teachers and parents can significantly enhance the learning of students this age by understanding the cognitive and social characteristics of middle school learners. Using the right instructional strategies to maximize the learning advantages and address the learning challenges of middle school learners can make all the difference in their success.

As an M.A. Reading Specialist and ELA teacher, I’ve spent half my career teaching reading intervention and English-language arts to middle schoolers. Previously, I had worked as a district elementary reading specialist. In entering the world of seventh and eighth graders, I had assumed that because the diagnostic reading assessments indicated the same reading deficits as my elementary kids, the same lessons, activities, and practice would produce the same results. Wrong!

Middle schoolers have so much more to bring to the learner table than do elementary students. Prior knowledge, life experience, oral vocabulary, etc. However, these caught in the middle kids have impediments to learning that the elementary students do not face.

I remember passing out practice fluency passages with big head cartoon character kids as part of the headers and reading comprehension strategy worksheets with “Grade 4” in the copyright footer. My seventh and eighth-grade students shut down. They chose not to learn.

Self-concept is of primary importance to middle schoolers who are not reading at grade level. Typically, by seventh grade, struggling readers fall into two camps: Those who have shut down to learning to read and those you act out as behavior problems. Both reactions are self-defense mechanisms to maintain a semblance of self-esteem.

The RtI (Response to Intervention) Action Network cites the following research-based conclusions regarding reading intervention for older students:

  1. the explicit instruction of reading and writing strategies (See my “Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection“)
  2. a focus on using reading and writing to support motivation and engagement
  3. a focus on developing student knowledge and understanding of essential content information (Torgesen et al., 2007)
  4. ongoing formative and summative assessment of students (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006) (See my FREE ELA/Reading Assessments)
  5. a comprehensive and coordinated literacy program (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006) http://www.rtinetwork.org/essential/assessment/screening/screening-for-reading-problems-in-grades-4-through-12.

Middle School Cognitive Development

By ages 12, 13, and 14, most students have begun developing the ability to understand symbolic ideas and abstract concepts. According to Piaget’s classifications, students will range in development from the concrete operational stage of development to the ability to the formal operational stage. In fact, studies show that brain growth slows down during these years, so cognitive skills of learners may expand at a slower rate; however, refinement of these skills can certainly be reinforced. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:

  1. Curious and willing to learn things they consider useful
  2. Enjoy solving “real-life” problems
  3. Focused on themselves and how they are perceived by their peers
  4. Resists adult authority and asserts independence
  5. Beginning to think critically

Middle School Social Development

Most middle schoolers experience conflicting values due to their changing roles within their family structure and the increasing influence of peers. Generally speaking, most students share the following characteristics:

  1. Need to feel part of a peer group, consisting of boys and girls, and are influenced by peer pressure and conformity to their group
  2. Prefer active over passive learning activities that involve working with their peers
  3. Need frequent physical activity and movement
  4. Need adult support, guidance, and calm direction

Middle School Instructional Strategies

Middle school students are very concerned about the labeling that takes place, when one is identified as a remedial reader. Labels and stereotypes are both externally imposed (by other students and, sometimes their parents) and internally imposed (by the students themselves). Lack of reading ability causes more self-defeating damage to students’ self-esteem as students grow older and the academic gap between themselves and good readers widens. Middle school teachers need to be extremely mindful of student self-perceptions and those of their peers. A few talking points to address with middle schoolers may prove helpful:

  • “All students need help in some areas.”
  • “This class is not for dumb students; it’s for students who just missed out on some reading skills.”
  • “Unfortunately, some of your past reading instruction was poor; it’s not your fault that you have some skills to work on.” a.k.a. “blame someone else”
  • “You will learn in this class. If you come to class willing to try everyday, you will significantly improve your reading, I promise.”
  • “You will be able to chart your own progress and see what you are learning in this class.”
  • “You aren’t in this class forever. As soon as you master your missing skills, you are out.”

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

FREE DOWNLOADS TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

 

 

 

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How to Lead Effective Group Discussions

Techniques for Group Discussion

Group Discussion Techniques

Knowing how to lead effective group discussions is a vitally important skill for both the classroom teacher and the corporate executive. Knowing some tricks of the trade will increase student/audience participation and prevent avoidable boredom from rearing its ugly head.

Transitions and Pacing

Transitions between questions are important in leading group discussions. A good group discussion leader builds upon what the audience says of importance and maintains a rhythm and flow to the discussion. A skilled discussion leader knows when to pepper the discussion with brief commentary and when to allow the audience to control the transitions. Audience members can be taught to respond to the previous answer and then move on.  They can also be taught to disagree agreeably and avoid an ad homonym argument. Paraphrasing is an important skill that can be practiced in group discussions.  Ending the discussion while there is still interest (and hands raised) can be done by announcing, “We can take three more comments.” If the discussion is bombing, end it quickly. There is no use in kicking a dead horse.

Discussion Management

Physical positioning is important when eliciting audience answers. Make sure that responses can be heard by every group member by moving to the opposite side of the room or cupping your hand to your ear or by asking “Can you hear him or her?” to distant audience members. Participants need to know that they are not just addressing the leader, but that they are also speaking to the entire group. Reinforce this by occasionally asking for another audience member to paraphrase someone else’s response.  Don’t, however, use this as a weapon to catch those “napping.”  Ask, “What do you think about that?” or “Who disagrees with that statement and why?” or “Can someone add to that?”

Frequently, good group discussions can sometimes break into parts, with smaller groups discussing the subject such as in dinner conversation.  If planned, or controlled, a “Pair-Share” can be effective; however, if prolonged, audience members will tend to wander into off-topic conversations or distracting behaviors. Usually, the movement of the leader to the location of the conversationalists will frequently extinguish the behavior without interrupting the flow of discussion. Proximity controls behavior.

In a discussion, it is sometimes helpful to alternate between sexes, between those of differing perceived abilities or job functions, or even among different ethnic groups to ensure that all are receive fair hearings. Picking labeled 3 x 5 cards or popsicle sticks (in the school setting) will ensure equitability. Audience members should be forewarned that they might be called upon even though their hands are not raised, so they should practice good listening strategies. Sometimes it is effective to begin a discussion without raising hands with the leader calling upon the audience members. Explain calling on participants without raising hands allows for the leader to fairly choose among all, and that it provides “wait time” so that those who do not think as quickly on a particular question can have enough time to develop their thoughts.

Dealing with over-zealous audience members can present a problem, especially during “wait times.” Interrupt interrupters with comments such as “Let’s give everyone a chance to reflect on this point.” In the school setting, forewarn students that you never pick those who shout “Oooh, ooh, ooh,” “Pick me, pick me!” or wave hands. Students who raise their hand too often can be assigned a limited number of “discussion star” moments per discussion to prevent their monopolization of the discussion.

Modeling Appropriate Discussion

Body language is extremely important in a discussion leader. Communicate openness and good listening skills by making eye contact, not turning your back on the speaker, and listening to the entire train of thought.  Interrupt only if the speaker is off target or goes on a tangent. Avoid folding your arms or putting your hands in your pockets. By not repeating student answers, we stress the importance of a student-centered discussion. This also forces students to listen to each other. Occasionally it will be important to translate or even paraphrase a particularly long student response, but do so sparingly. Ask others to do this, if necessary. Encourage participants to make eye contact with each other by reminding audience members to “talk to them, not just me.”

Praising and Correcting

Praising should be catered to the response, rather than to the individual. Specific praise that teaches is better than a general blessing. For example, “I like how you compared such and such to the idea in the last chapter” is better than “Super, duper, most excellent answer!”

Incorrect responses need to be dealt with honestly, clearly and quickly. Group discussion leaders who strive to maintain the self-esteem of the individual by praising or validating incorrect responses run the risk of confusing the participant and the rest of the learners and disrupting the scaffolded nature of a well-planned group discussion. It is better to say a simple “No,” than “Not quite,” “Good try,” or “Can someone add to that?”

Getting the Whole Group to Participate

It is important to develop a consistent “wait time” to allow and encourage the whole group to think through an answer after each question.  Easier questions need less wait time than harder ones.  This models careful, considered thought, rather than, as many group discussions are all too often a race of the quick wits. Allow silence to be understood as a normal course of events in a discussion.  Fill the silence only to clarify a question, if you believe that it was not understood, or to encourage more participation.  How long of a “wait time” is a matter of teacher judgment.  As a rule of thumb, if at least half of the hands are not raised in the group, then there is a problem in the question sequencing, question wording, or the perceived pay-off is not worth the effort.

Regarding pay-off, audience members need to know that their participation in class discussion is an important part of their overall grade* or evaluation. Otherwise, many audience members will avoid participation or perceive the group discussion as being of minimal importance. In the school setting, rewards such as grades, extra credit, treats, stickers, privileges are all weapons which the creative teacher can employ to motivate class participation in discussions. In the business setting, clever discussion leaders can also provide rewards. Short term, explicit rewards tend to work better than long term ones.

*In the classroom, one pay-off method that words well is to have a graded discussion in which the teacher selects a student recorder to score the points earned. This frees the teacher up to lead the discussion without worrying about properly crediting responses. After a correct student response, the teacher signals the recorder with the forefinger and the recorder places a tally mark next to the name of the student.  If the response is particularly insightful or directly responds to the response of another student, the teacher may signal two fingers, for two tally marks. The latter must, of course, be accompanied by a resonating class “oooh!”  A good feature of this technique is that it tracks student responses.  During class discussion, the teacher can survey the hash marks to determine who is failing to contribute or contributing excessively.  It is also a very objective means of grading such a subjective student performance area.  Students tend to perceive this graded discussion as being quite fair.

Using a Common Language of Discussion

Teachers find that using a common language of discussion promotes focused group discussion. For English language-arts teachers, check out the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies (FREE bookmark download below). Included in the author’s popular Essential Study Skills (What Every Student Should Know)the SCRIP acronym stands for Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict. Perfect for prompting focused discussion.

To summarize the author’s argument…

I connect Marci’s point to what David said…

One way to re-think what the character says is…

I interpret this to mean…

I predict that the outcome of these actions will produce…

How to Grade Literary Discussions

So, how can a teacher design discussions, especially literary-based analyses, to hold students or colleagues accountable for their preparation and participation? Check out this related post.

The author’s Essential Study Skills is the study skill curriculum that teaches what students need to know to succeed and thrive in schoolOften, the reason why students fail to achieve their academic potential is not because of laziness or lack of effort, but because they have never learned the basic study skills necessary for success. The 56 lessons in Essential Study Skills will teach your students to “work smarter, not harder.” Students who master these skills will spend less time, and accomplish more during homework and study time. Their test study will be more productive and they will get better grades. Reading comprehension and vocabulary will improve. Their writing will make more sense and essays will be easier to plan and complete. They will memorize better and forget less. Their schoolwork will seem easier and will be much more enjoyable. Lastly, students will feel better about themselves as learners and will be more motivated to succeed. em>Essential Study Skills is the ideal curriculum for study skill, life skill, Advocacy/Advisory, Opportunity Program classes. The easy-to-follow lesson format of 1. Personal Assessment 2. Study Skill Tips and 3. Reflection is ideal for self-guided learning and practice. Contact the publisher for affordable site licenses.

Pennington Publishing's Essential Study Skills

Essential Study Skills

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How to Teach the Essay Introduction

Although the three components of the essay introduction (introducing the topic, engaging the audience, and transitioning to the thesis statement) would seem to suggest a three-sentence paragraph, this application may work nicely with some essays, but not with all. The problem with teaching formulaic introductory paragraphs for argumentative (CCSS W 1.0) and informational-explanatory (CCSS W 2.0) essays is that the square peg does not always fit the round hole.

Teaching students how to write an essay introduction is challenging work. The thesis statement is not usually the issue; most teachers do a fine job of teaching the most important sentence of the essay. More often, teachers need help teaching their students how to introduce the topic and engage the audience. Some teachers refer to these introduction strategies as the hooklead-in, or transition. The instructional challenge is that some introduction strategies work for some writing tasks and some work for others. Students need to learn a variety of introduction strategies to begin their essays and transition into their thesis statements. The following introduction strategies and examples will equip teachers with a flexible, not formulaic approach to teaching How to Write an Essay Introduction.

How to Teach Essay Introduction Strategies

Essay Introduction Strategies

Introduction Strategies: DQ REPS BC

1. Definition: Explains the meaning of an unfamiliar term or makes a general essay topic more specific.

Examples: Prior to the Civil War, the term popular sovereignty referred to the policy of allowing the voters of individual states to determine whether slavery should be legal or not. The issue of sports-related concussions requires special consideration with youth contact sports.

2. Question: Asks your audience to think about why the essay topic is important or relevant.

Example: Why has the President issued the executive order at this point of his administration?

3. Reference to Common Knowledge: States an idea or fact that is known and accepted by your audience in order to build consensus.

Example: Most Americans favor some form of tax reform.

4. Expert Quotation: Provides an insightful comment about the essay topic from a well-known authority.

Example: Former Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy, called youth e-cigarette smoking “a major public health concern.”

5. Preview of Topic Sentences: Lists the main point from each topic sentence before or within the thesis statement.

Example: Both positive consequences and negative effects of the new law require close examination.

6. Surprise: States an unexpected fact or idea, one that is unknown to your audience, or one that provokes curiosity about the essay topic.

Examples: Women live longer than men. Few Americans know that the number of Supreme Court Justices has changed throughout history. The report offers new clues about how to improve memory.

7. Background: Describes the relevant problem, historical circumstances, or literary context of the essay topic.

Examples: Gang-related murders have increased dramatically over the last decade. Over the past 100 years the average increase of Arctic temperatures has nearly doubled that of the rest of the world. In Sharon Creech’s novel, Walk Two Moons, the main character, Salamanca, learns to cope with the unexpected death of her mother. 

8. Controversy: Sparks interest because many might disagree with what is being said.

Example: However, freedom of speech extends to the rights of speakers as well as to the rights of protesters.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Essay Introductions

Do…

  • Use the DQ REPS BC strategies which best match the topic and tone of your essay. For example, the Expert Quotation and Controversy introduction strategies might serve as perfect lead-ins to this thesis statement: State and local governments should pass legislation banning the use of plastic grocery bags. However, the same two introduction strategies would probably not be used as lead-ins to this thesis statement: Americans have changed taste preferences for their favorite ice cream flavors.
  • Use the DQ REPS BC strategies which best match the purpose and scope of the writing task. For example, a five paragraph argumentative essay would not include references to the argumentative strategy of the writer, but a half-hour argumentative speech certainly should. A five paragraph informational-explanatory essay would not include a separate introductory paragraph on the research methodology, but a five page research paper might necessitate such an explanation.
  • Use the DQ REPS BC strategies which best match your audience. For example, the Background introduction strategy may be essential if writing a response to literature essay to an audience unfamiliar with the novel; however, identifying the main characters and setting may be unnecessary or even condescending to an audience of students and teacher who have already read the novel. Furthermore, the Reference to Common Knowledge introduction strategy might be necessary for an audience of fourth graders, but not for eighth graders.
  • Place the thesis statement last in short essays. The audience (your reader) expects the purpose or point of view of the essay to be in this position. Don’t disappoint your audience unless you have a specific reason for placing the thesis statement elsewhere.

Don’t…

  • Make unreasonable statements. For example, absolute words such as neveronly, and always and causal connection words such as becauseresults, the reason for, caused, created, changed, led to are rarely accurate and often suggest a lack of objectivity in the writer.
  • Pad the introductory paragraph with overly general statements or say what does not need to be said. For example, The fact of the matter is that Americans have differences of opinions on this issue. Of course, Americans believe in freedom and justice.
  • Be uncertain or apologetic. For example, saying “it may or may not be true” or “more research needs to be done to reach a firm conclusion” does not build confidence in your audience that your essay will be convincing or informative.
  • Use anecdotes for short essays. For example, take this often-used anecdote: “When Abraham Lincoln was working as a clerk in a store, he once overcharged a customer by 6 1/4 cents. Upon discovering his mistake, he walked three miles to return the woman’s money.”  This anecdote might work nicely for a long essay or speech on the subject of honesty, but not in an introductory paragraph for a short five paragraph essay. The anecdote might serve better as evidence in a body paragraph. Plus, confusing narrative elements with exposition when establishing the voice of the essay in the introduction can be confusing to the audience.

The Big Picture

Think of writing an essay introduction much as how a prosecuting attorney might design an opening statement. The attorney would take time to consider which introduction strategies would best fit the nature of the case, the character of the defendant, and those listening and deliberating in the courtroom. The attorney begins by explaining the crime. (The crime is the topic.) Next, the attorney connects that crime to the defendant and engages the jury. (The defendant and jury are the audience.) Finally, the attorney states the assertion (or claim) that the defendant is guilty of the crime. (The assertion or claim of “guilty” is the attorney’s thesis statement.) Now that you have mastered How to Teach the Essay Introduction, your students will need the evidence strategies to convince their juries. Check out the FE SCALE CC to learn how to teach these types of evidence strategies.

Want to post eight colorful classroom posters of the Essay Introduction Strategies in your classroom?

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*****

Teaching Essays

TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE

The author’s TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE includes the three printable and digital resources students need to master the CCSS W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational/explanatory essays. Each no-prep resource allows students to work at their own paces via mastery learning. How to Teach Essays includes 42 skill-based essay strategy worksheets (fillable PDFs and 62 Google slides), beginning with simple 3-word paragraphs and proceeding step-by-step to complex multi-paragraph essays. One skill builds upon another. The Essay Skills Worksheets include 97 worksheets (printables and 97 Google slides) to help teachers differentiate writing instruction with both remedial and advanced writing skills. The Eight Writing Process Essays (printables and 170 Google slides) each feature an on-demand diagnostic essay assessment, writing prompt with connected reading, brainstorming, graphic organizer, response, revision, and editing activities. Plus, each essay includes a detailed analytical (not holistic) rubric for assessment-based learning.

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How to Teach the Essay Conclusion

Few teachers feel comfortable teaching students how to write a conclusion paragraph for an essay. Simply re-stating the thesis and summarizing the main points of an essay make a rather weak conclusion. In a related article on How to Teach the Essay Introduction, I compare the essay introduction to a prosecuting attorney’s opening statements. Using the same courtroom scene, the essay conclusion can be compared to the attorney’s closing arguments.

If the prosecuting attorney followed his high school English teacher’s advice to “give a finished feel to the essay” by adding a conclusion paragraph that re-states the thesis and summarizes the main points, the closing arguments would be as follows:

“As I said in my opening statement, the defendant is guilty of grand theft auto. The fingerprints on the stolen car, the DNA evidence on the driver’s seat, and the two eyewitnesses conclusively prove the defendant to be guilty.”

Most defense attorneys would relish following such a weak closing argument with their own more effective closing arguments.

It’s not that re-stating the thesis and providing a summary of main points are poor conclusion strategies… The point is that by themselves, they do not accomplish the purpose of an essay conclusion paragraph: to analytically comment, synthesize, and make judgments about the evidence presented in the body paragraphs.

Plus, the conclusion strategies which work for some essays will not work for all essays. Teachers need to teach a variety of conclusion strategies, so that student writers can match the appropriate strategies to the essay topic and evidence presented. Formulaic conclusions often wind up trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

The following conclusion strategies will help you learn how to teach the essay conclusion strategies which are appropriate to the writing task.

How to Teach Conclusion Strategies

Conclusion Strategies

Conclusion Strategies GQ SALE SC

Generalization-Broadens a specific point of the essay into a more general focus.

Example: The issue of state lawmakers refusing to vote on controversial issues by encouraging statewide votes brings up the question as to whether our system of representative democracy still serves a purpose.

Question for Further Study-Asks about a related topic or question that is relevant, but beyond the focus of the essay.

Example: If concussions present such a danger to professional football players, why do schools and communities continue to support youth football?

Statement of Significance-States why the proven thesis statement is important or relevant.

Example: With the extinction of one species, the web of nature may be disrupted in unexpected ways.

Application-Applies the proven thesis statement to another idea or issue.

Example: If celebrities and politicians are excused from the consequences of lying to authorities, students may assume that lying to their parents or teacher should be excused as well.

Argument Limitations-Explains how or why your conclusions are limited.

Example: Although the evidence clearly suggests that the student cheated on this test, it does not prove that the student  cheated on previous tests.

Emphasis of Key Point-Repeats specific evidence and explains why it is the most convincing or important evidence.

Example: Most importantly, slavery caused the Civil War because it was the one division between the North and the South which could no longer be compromised.

Synthesize-Combine the main points of the essay to create a new insight proving the thesis statement.

Example: Her natural talent, work ethic, and luck contributed to her surprising success.

Call to Action- Challenges the reader to take a stand, make a difference, or get involved.

Example: The evidence suggests that public protest may stop this abuse of the mayor’s power. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”

The Do’s and Don’ts of Essay Conclusions

Do…

  • Re-state the thesis as the first sentence in your conclusion paragraph. Although redundant and unnecessary in a short argumentative or informational-explanatory essay, the audience (the reader) expects to be reminded of the thesis and the re-statement signals the concluding paragraph.
  • Use the GQ SALE SC strategies which best match the purpose and scope of the writing task. For example, a five paragraph informational-explanatory essay on trending ice cream flavors would not include a Statement of Significance or Call to Action; however, an argumentative essay on changing the electoral college system of electing the President certainly could use these strategies.
  • Comment on and evaluate evidence. For example, not all evidence is equally convincing. Commenting on the quality of evidence and prioritizing evidence is a mark of good scholarship and writing.
  • Synthesize and apply evidence. For example, “The combination of unseasonably warm storms and lack of levee maintenance contributed to the flooding.” The sum of the evidence parts can be greater than the whole.

Don’t…

  • Make unreasonable statements. For example, absolute words such as neveronly, and always and causal connection words such as becauseresults, the reason for, caused, created, changed, led to are rarely accurate and often suggest a lack of objectivity in the writer. Instead, use qualified modifiers such as maymightprobably, most likely, generally, etc.
  • Simply repeat. A cleverly worded thesis re-statement will transition to the analysis, insights, and judgments of an effective conclusion paragraph. Even the Summary Statement should be selective, not repetitive.
  • Add new evidence. For example, the conclusion paragraph is not the place to add on “forgot to mention” or “Additionally” or “one more” statements.
  • Begin the conclusion paragraph with unnecessary transitions. Avoid phrases like “in conclusion,” “to conclude,” “in summary,” and “to sum up.” These phrases can be useful–even welcome–in oral presentations. But readers can see, by the tell-tale compression of the pages, when an essay is about to end. You’ll irritate your audience if you belabor the obvious (Pat Bellanca, for the Writing Center at Harvard University).

The Big Picture

Think of an essay conclusion as a vital part of demonstrating how you have proven your point of view in an argumentative essay or achieved the purpose of your essay in an informational-essay.

Want to post eight colorful classroom posters of the Essay Conclusion Strategies in your classroom?

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*****

Teaching Essays

TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE

The author’s TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE includes the three printable and digital resources students need to master the CCSS W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational/explanatory essays. Each no-prep resource allows students to work at their own paces via mastery learning. How to Teach Essays includes 42 skill-based essay strategy worksheets (fillable PDFs and 62 Google slides), beginning with simple 3-word paragraphs and proceeding step-by-step to complex multi-paragraph essays. One skill builds upon another. The Essay Skills Worksheets include 97 worksheets (printables and 97 Google slides) to help teachers differentiate writing instruction with both remedial and advanced writing skills. The Eight Writing Process Essays (printables and 170 Google slides) each feature an on-demand diagnostic essay assessment, writing prompt with connected reading, brainstorming, graphic organizer, response, revision, and editing activities. Plus, each essay includes a detailed analytical (not holistic) rubric for assessment-based learning.

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How to Use Numerical Values to Write Essays

Numerical Hierarchy Essay Structure

Essay Structure Numerical Hierarchy

Using numerical values to identify and apply essay structure has proved an effective tool in identifying expository text structure and helping writers organize essays. The numerical values eliminate the writing jargon that varies from teacher to teacher and curriculum to curriculum. Instead, writers simply apply the implicit hierarchy of the number system to that of reading and writing. Writers just seem to intuitively “get” the idea of a number system applied to their expository writing in essays.

I suggest using the following numerical hierarchy to avoid the confusing writing terminology:

(1) for the introductory strategies of an essay introduction—for example, a definition or a preview of the topic sentences.

(2) for the thesis statement (or claim) that “talks about” the introduction strategies.

(3) for the topic sentences that “talk about” the thesis statement.

(4) for the major details that “talk about” the topic sentence.

(5) for the support details that “talk about” the major details.

(6) for the conclusion strategies—for example, a thesis re-statement or summary.

For Developing Recognition of Text Structure

Try analyzing expository reading by numbering the sentences. Critique the writing by analyzing the structure and whether there is sufficient evidence, e.g. enough (5s) to back the (4s).

For Essay Writing

Using your own writing prompts, practice varying sentence order within the numerical hierarchy to help students develop a flexible writing style to address the demands of the writing prompt and improve the quality of your essays. Try the following paragraph organizations and watch your students improve their writing structure and recognition of text structure at the same time.

1. (3)-(4)-(4)

2. (3)-(4)-(4)-(4)

3. (3)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)

4. (4)-(5)-(3)-(4)-(5)

5. (4)-(5)-(4)-(5)-(3)

6. (4)-(5)-(4)-(5)

7. (3)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)

8. (3)-(4)-(4)-(4)-(5)

9. (3)-(4)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)

10. (3)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)-(5)

11. (Transition Statement)-(3)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)

12. (3)-(4)-(5)-(4)-(5)-(Concluding Statement)

13. (1)-(1)-(2) added to any two of the above body paragraphs

14. (6)-(6)-(6) added to any two of the above body paragraphs

15. (1)-(1)-(2) added to any two of the above body paragraphs (6)-(6)-(6)

Teachers may also be interested in these articles by Mark Pennington: How to Write an IntroductionHow to Write a Conclusion, and How to Use Writing Evidence.

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Teaching Essays

TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE

The author’s TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE includes the three printable and digital resources students need to master the CCSS W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational/explanatory essays. Each no-prep resource allows students to work at their own paces via mastery learning. How to Teach Essays includes 42 skill-based essay strategy worksheets (fillable PDFs and 62 Google slides), beginning with simple 3-word paragraphs and proceeding step-by-step to complex multi-paragraph essays. One skill builds upon another. The Essay Skills Worksheets include 97 worksheets (printables and 97 Google slides) to help teachers differentiate writing instruction with both remedial and advanced writing skills. The Eight Writing Process Essays (printables and 170 Google slides) each feature an on-demand diagnostic essay assessment, writing prompt with connected reading, brainstorming, graphic organizer, response, revision, and editing activities. Plus, each essay includes a detailed analytical (not holistic) rubric for assessment-based learning.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

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How to Write Body Paragraphs

Many writers have not learned how to write body paragraphs for an essay, article, formal research paper, or business letter. All too often, students only received this limited instruction about how to write body paragraphs: “Write a topic sentence; write major detail sentences; then, support the major detail sentences with minor detail sentences.” Not much help with that limited instruction…

The following strategies will help you write learn how to write body paragraphs that will be appropriate to the writing task, provide pertinent evidence to prove your thesis, and also show off your writing skills. The FE SCALE C memory trick will help remind you of the evidence strategies you need to use on timed writing tasks. Not every evidence strategy fits the purpose of every writing task, so learn and practice these options to increase your writing skill-set.

Body paragraphs are organized around the topic sentence, which is the main point, reason, or argument to prove the thesis statement. Always place your topic sentence at the beginning of each body paragraph. Writing research indicates that the topic sentence is placed at the beginning of the body paragraph 80% of the time in published works, so don’t re-invent the wheel. Write in the way your reader expects to read.

Then, use the FE SCALE C evidence strategies to provide the evidence to support the topic sentence. Think of writing body paragraphs much as a prosecuting attorney uses evidence to convince a jury that the defendant is guilty of the crime. Connect your body paragraph evidence strategies with effective transition words to maintain coherence. The body paragraph should flow together as one whole. Every word should move the reader toward the demanded verdict, which is your thesis statement.

Use a variety of evidence to support your topic sentence in each paragraph. I suggest that two or three types of evidence per body paragraph is most effective. A good attorney uses a wide variety of evidence. Limiting evidence to one form will weaken your overall argument and not win your conviction. Think of the O.J. Simpson’s “Trial of the Century.” The prosecution overly relied on DNA evidence and failed to convince its jury. All it took was “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” to provide enough doubt to the jury to acquit the defendant.

After composing the topic sentence, flesh out each evidence strategy in a compound-complex sentence or two separate sentences. Then, analyze the evidence in another sentence. Of course, sometimes it is also appropriate to do the reverse: state a major detail that addresses the topic sentence and then provide the evidence strategy to support that detail.

A good body paragraph might be structured in this way:

  • Topic Sentence

  • Evidence Strategy #1 Sentence

  • Analysis Sentence

  • Evidence Strategy #2 Sentence

  • Analysis Sentence

  • Major Detail

  • Evidence Strategy #3 Sentence

Types of Evidence: FE SCALE C

1. Fact means something actually done or said.

Neil Armstrong was the first person to step on the moon. He said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

2. Example is a part of something used to explain the whole thing.

Peas, beans, and corn are examples of vegetables.

3. Statistic is an amount, fraction, or percentage learned from scientific research.

The world has over 7 billion people; half live in Asia; only 5% live in the United States.

4. Comparison means to show how one thing is like or unlike another.

Both automobiles are available with hybrid engines, but only one has an all-electric plug-in option.

5. Authority is an expert which can be quoted to support a claim or a topic.

According to the Surgeon General of the United States, “Smoking is the chief cause of lung cancer.”

6. Logic is deductive (general to specific) or inductive (specific to general) reasoning.

All fruits have vitamins and apples are fruits, so apples have vitamins. The first 10 crayons I picked were red, so the whole box must be filled with red crayons.

7. Experience is a personal observation of or participation in an event.

Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back requires careful planning and takes most of the day.

8. Counterclaim is the argument against one’s point of view, which the writer then minimizes or refutes (proves wrong).

Some argue that a high protein diet is healthy because… However, most doctors disagree due to…

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Teaching Essays

TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE

The author’s TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE includes the three printable and digital resources students need to master the CCSS W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational/explanatory essays. Each no-prep resource allows students to work at their own paces via mastery learning. How to Teach Essays includes 42 skill-based essay strategy worksheets (fillable PDFs and 62 Google slides), beginning with simple 3-word paragraphs and proceeding step-by-step to complex multi-paragraph essays. One skill builds upon another. The Essay Skills Worksheets include 97 worksheets (printables and 97 Google slides) to help teachers differentiate writing instruction with both remedial and advanced writing skills. The Eight Writing Process Essays (printables and 170 Google slides) each feature an on-demand diagnostic essay assessment, writing prompt with connected reading, brainstorming, graphic organizer, response, revision, and editing activities. Plus, each essay includes a detailed analytical (not holistic) rubric for assessment-based learning.

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Eight Great Tips for Teaching Writing Fluency

With the inclusion of essays on high-stakes tests such as the SAT® and ACT®, as well as many state standards tests and high-school exit exams, the need to improve writing fluency has recently surfaced as a desired goal. Which approaches to writing fluency work best?

1. Teach students to read a variety of writing prompts. Expose students to different content area and writing domain prompts. For example, using social science, literature, and science content with informational, expository, analytical, and persuasive domains. Teach students to read the writing prompt twice—the first time for understanding and the second time to circle the subject and highlight key words.

2. Give students ample practice in turning writing prompts into effective essay topic sentences. “Thesis Turn-Arounds” can be a productive “opener” to any lesson in any subject area. For example, if the prompt reads “Analyze the causes of the Civil War,” students could begin their theses with “Many causes contributed to the Civil War.”

3. Give students practice in developing quick pre-writes to organize a multi-paragraph writing response. Teach a variety of graphic organizers and review how each is appropriate to different writing prompts.

4. Give students practice in writing introductory paragraphs after pre-writing. Give students practice in writing just one timed body paragraph to address one aspect of the essay after pre-writing.

5. Provide immediate individual feedback to students with brief writers conferences.

6. Use the display projector to use critique real student samples. Write along with students and have them critique your writing samples.

7. Teach how to pace various allotted essay times. For example, the SAT® essay is only 25 minutes. The Smarter Balance and PAARC tests provide unlimited writing time. Brainstorm and allocate times before a full essay writing fluency for the following: analysis of the writing prompt, pre-write, draft, revisions, editing.

8. If a brief reading passage is part of the background for the writing task, teach students to annotate the passage with margin notes as they read.

Teachers may also be interested in these articles by Mark Pennington: How to Write an IntroductionHow to Write a Conclusion, and How to Use Writing Evidence.

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The author’s TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE includes the three printable and digital resources students need to master the CCSS W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational/explanatory essays. Each no-prep resource allows students to work at their own paces via mastery learning. How to Teach Essays includes 42 skill-based essay strategy worksheets (fillable PDFs and 62 Google slides), beginning with simple 3-word paragraphs and proceeding step-by-step to complex multi-paragraph essays. One skill builds upon another. The Essay Skills Worksheets include 97 worksheets (printables and 97 Google slides) to help teachers differentiate writing instruction with both remedial and advanced writing skills. The Eight Writing Process Essays (printables and 170 Google slides) each feature an on-demand diagnostic essay assessment, writing prompt with connected reading, brainstorming, graphic organizer, response, revision, and editing activities. Plus, each essay includes a detailed analytical (not holistic) rubric for assessment-based learning.

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How to Improve Writing Parallelism

Writing parallelism refers to the repeated usage of words and grammatical structures in a well-designed pattern. Parallel structures assist the comprehension of the reader and provide a memorable rhythm to the writing.

The structure changes according to the domain of the writing, but when an author consistently follows a plan, the reader can clearly follow what the author intends to share or to prove. Check out the multi-day Core Assessment lessons HERE to add on to the following Gettysburg Address lesson on parallelism.

Hints to Improve Writing Parallelism

  1. Repeat key words throughout an essay to help the reader maintain focus.
  2. Use the same grammatical structures for phrases within lists, for example, verb endings.
  3. Repeated transitions can also produce interesting writing parallelism.

One of the greatest examples of writing parallelism in American literature is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

-Carefully read the address and then examine the phrases listed below to identify the writing parallelism Review the text to see how the parallel structures are repeated.

Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war. . .testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated. . . can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate. . .we cannot consecrate. . . we cannot hallow this ground.

a new nation

conceived in liberty

we are engaged

so conceived

that nation

we can not dedicate

Free Lesson on How to Improve Writing Parallelism

How to Improve Writing Parallelism

-Now, pick out the writing parallelism in the remainder of the text on your own.

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. . .that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people. . .by the people. . .for the people. . . shall not perish from the earth.

Also, check out Mark Pennington’s articles on writing unity, coherence, and parallelism.

The author’s TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE provides 11 Transition Worksheets, one for each purpose. Each worksheet requires students to identify, select, and apply the

transition words in the context of sentences and paragraphs. Great practice! Check out the free samples below.

Get the Transition Worksheets FREE Resource:

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Teaching Essays

TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE

The author’s TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLE includes the three printable and digital resources students need to master the CCSS W.1 argumentative and W.2 informational/explanatory essays. Each no-prep resource allows students to work at their own paces via mastery learning. How to Teach Essays includes 42 skill-based essay strategy worksheets (fillable PDFs and 62 Google slides), beginning with simple 3-word paragraphs and proceeding step-by-step to complex multi-paragraph essays. One skill builds upon another. The Essay Skills Worksheets include 97 worksheets (printables and 97 Google slides) to help teachers differentiate writing instruction with both remedial and advanced writing skills. The Eight Writing Process Essays (printables and 170 Google slides) each feature an on-demand diagnostic essay assessment, writing prompt with connected reading, brainstorming, graphic organizer, response, revision, and editing activities. Plus, each essay includes a detailed analytical (not holistic) rubric for assessment-based learning.

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